Magazine article New African

How Britain Impeded the First 'Back to Africa Movement': While Today's Migratory Patterns Reveal an Outward Flow of People from Africa Seeking Better Lives for Themselves in Europe, There Was a Time When People Living in Europe Desperately Sought Asylum in Africa. Carina Ray Continues Her Tales from the Archives

Magazine article New African

How Britain Impeded the First 'Back to Africa Movement': While Today's Migratory Patterns Reveal an Outward Flow of People from Africa Seeking Better Lives for Themselves in Europe, There Was a Time When People Living in Europe Desperately Sought Asylum in Africa. Carina Ray Continues Her Tales from the Archives

Article excerpt

The "Back to Africa" movement is virtually synonymous with Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), the Jamaican-born activist and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Outraged by the oppression of people of African descent in every corner of the globe he travelled to, Garvey envisioned UNIA as an instrument to uplift the black masses. His rallying cry, "Africa for the Africans", was both a demand for African independence and a call for Africans in the Diaspora to return to the motherland.

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His plan to repatriate large numbers of Diasporan Africans to the continent was, however, not without precedent. Understudied in comparison to Garvey, Chief Alfred Charles Sam launched the "African Movement" in 1914, which attempted to resettle African-Americans in West Africa. Chief Sam was born around 1879 in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and spent his early years in Akyem Takyiman and Akyem Swedru. Schooled by the Basel Mission, his parents hoped he would become a missionary, but Sam had other plans. At the turn of the century, he entered into commerce, specialising in the cocoa and rubber trades. Success in the cocoa industry allowed him to travel to New York in 1911 where he founded the Akim Trading Company to promote trade between Africa, Europe and the United States. Among the company's chief aims was the purchase of a ship to transport freight and passengers to and from West Africa. In 1912, Sam returned to the Gold Coast where he set up several branches of his company. He also purchased land from Okyenhene Kwamin Dokyi in Apoli near the meeting point of the Pra and Birim rivers.

News of Sam's land purchase in the Gold Coast filtered back to America through the African League newspaper, headquartered in Mississippi. Several leading African-Americans, involved in an Oklahoma-based emigration society, contacted Sam to find out whether his land could be used for the settlement of African-Americans from Oklahoma. In turn, Sam enquired with a number of chiefs in Akyem who apparently agreed to receive the African-American settlers and to make land available to them.

It was at this point that Sam turned his attention away from trade to focus on an immigration scheme. Such was the enthusiasm of the prospective African-American immigrants that upon Sam's return to the United States in 1913, he was quickly able to raise large sums of money to fund the scheme. Potential settlers purchased stock in his newly constituted Akim Trading Company Limited which entitled them to free passage to the Gold Coast. By January 1914, Sam had accumulated $69,000 to purchase a German-built steamer, Curityba.

As his plan picked up speed, he was beset by a series of criminal charges levelled by state and national authorities in the US who were suspicious of his activities and motives. British officials in the Gold Coast were also wary of Sam's business dealings, but none of the accusations proved to be true. When legal impediments failed to curb Sam's plans, the British authorities launched a campaign to discourage African-Americans from joining Sam's "African movement".

Amongst the African-Americans who contacted British officials in an attempt to verify the credibility of Sam, was Dr. James E. Guess of Clarksville, Oklahoma. Guess wanted to be sure that "this country Gold Coast Africa desires the emigration of negroes from the USA". Furthermore, he wished to ascertain whether "Chief Sam is acting in good faith and by authority of your kingdom or by your knowledge or consent".

The British Colonial Office informed Guess that Sam was not "acting under the direction of the government of the Gold Coast Colony, nor with the knowledge or consent of HM's government." To this, it was added that "for climatic and other reasons the emigration of American negroes to West Africa could not be arranged".

The British government's efforts to dissuade the hopeful immigrants from settling in the Gold Coast largely failed. …

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